News and Press Releases

Reno Man Charged As Part Of International, Internet-based Child Pornography Investigation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 15, 2006

Reno, Nev. – The Federal Grand Jury returned an Indictment today against a Reno man charging him with conspiring to possess and distribute thousands of images and videos of child pornography, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada.

MICHAEL T BURNS, age 45, of Reno, is charged with one count of Conspiracy (to possess and distribute child pornography), one count of Possession of Child Pornography, and three counts of Promoting Distribution of Child Pornography.

BURNS was targeted as part of an undercover investigation resulting in charges against 27 individuals to date in the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain. The focus of the investigation was a group of individuals who used sophisticated computer software programs and tools to create a worldwide network for sharing child pornography with a reduced risk of apprehension by law enforcement. The worldwide network/internet chat room was being used to facilitate the trading of graphic images of child pornography – including live streaming video of adults sexually molesting children and infants.

"Unfortunately, the distribution of child pornography has expanded exponentially with advances in computer technology and increased availability and popular use of the Internet," said U.S. Attorney Bogden. "Our internet crimes against children task forces in Nevada are working with our law enforcement partners throughout the nation and world to ensure that persons who prey on children over the internet are investigated and prosecuted."

The Indictment alleges that from December 10, 2005, to March 6, 2006, MICHAEL BURNS, using the screen name "Wharfrat," Royal Weller, using the screen name "God," James Allen, using the screen name "Darkhorse," and Jason Wilson, using the screen name "Culex," conspired to possess and distribute child pornography in the "kiddie pics & kiddie vids" internet chat room. It alleges that certain individuals, known as hosts and administrators were required to monitor and control the chat rooms in order for other members to visit. BURNS was allegedly one of those administrators.

The Indictment alleges the following specific acts by BURNS /"Wharfrat":

On January 24, 2006, "Wharfrat" made available 350 image and video files, most with file names indicative of known child pornography, to others users of the chat room;

On December 10, 2005, "Wharfrat" and "God" engaged in a chat discussing child pornography;

On January 27, February 27, and March 1, 2006, BURNS entered the chat room and announced that he had files to share with other users. On March 1, BURNS said he had up to 65,000 files he could share with other users in the chat room.

BURNS was arrested last week after Special Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) searched his residence at 149 Burns Street in Reno and seized a computer containing over 10,000 images and 1,000 video clips of child pornography. He was detained by U.S. Magistrate Judge Valerie Cooke following his initial appearance hearing last Friday, March 10,2006, and is currently in custody. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge, up to10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the possession charge, and five to 20 years in prison and $250,000 fine on each of the promoting distribution of child pornography charges.

"Those who engage in the sexual exploitation of children should no longer expect the anonymity of cyberspace to protect them," said John Colledge, Resident Agent-In-Charge for ICE investigations in Reno. "ICE will continue to work with foreign and domestic law enforcement agencies to safeguard those most vulnerable members of society, our children."

Prosecuting crimes against the exploitable is a top prosecution priority for the United States Attorney's Office in the District of Nevada. Between January 1, 2002, and March 15, 2006, 133 defendants have been charged in the District of Nevada with crimes ranging from receipt and possession of child pornography, interstate travel with intent to engage in a sexual act with a juvenile, and using a computer to entice a juvenile to have sex. Most of those charged have been convicted and sentenced to significant periods of imprisonment.

This case is being investigated locally by U.S. ICE and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ronald C. Rachow.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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